Good to Know
Minimize garden damage by thwarting hungry deer
Did hungry deer damage your garden this summer? Hardly any plant is off limits to deer, but gardeners can employ a few techniques to help keep them away from your plants.
Familiar with human activity, perceptive deer observe behaviors that enable them to work around deterrents. While there aren’t many foolproof ways to keep deer out for good—aside from 10-foot-high fences—homeowners can angle a shorter fence 45 degrees to give an illusion of a higher one or install two 5-foot-high fences 4 feet apart.
“Deer don’t have the ability to estimate distance correctly, so the fences will look closer and higher than they actually are,” said Kirsten Ann Conrad, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Arlington. “They won’t risk getting caught between the two fences, so they’re less likely to jump.”
While not everyone can invest in fences, and some localities may not allow it, gardeners also can try non-toxic deer repellents.
“These sprays are generally effective if they’re applied early and frequently,” Conrad noted. “If deer learn to avoid your landscape because the treated plants don’t taste good, they’ll continue to avoid your property even after you’ve stopped spraying.”
Deer can get accustomed to repellents, so it’s best to rotate between different types. Ultimately, if a deer is desperate, a repellent may not keep it away.
Watch this video: Horticulturalist Mark Viette suggests ways to make your garden less attractive to deer in this clip from Real Virginia.
Man’s best friend also can help, as neighborhoods with many dogs frequently have fewer deer.
“If you have either a dog on a tether or within a fenced area, their presence and activity may reduce the likelihood of deer coming,” suggested Jim Parkhurst, associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
Parkhurst explained that deer are frequently attracted to showy plants people cultivate in gardens, including Asiatic lilies, hostas, some azaleas and roses.
While no plant is truly deer-resistant, there are some they don’t prefer. Native plants like mountain laurel, cinquefoil, Virginia bluebells and wild bleeding hearts are less susceptible to deer damage and help beautify landscapes.
Finally, unpredictability is key. Deterrents like wind chimes, spinners and other objects are helpful when moved around in the garden.
Blending your own birdseed can draw a diverse flock to backyard feeders
Many Virginians enjoy feeding birds in their garden, and a custom-blended birdseed mix can draw a loyal and diverse crowd to the feeder.
Augusta County horticulturist Mark Viette has been creating his own custom birdseed blends for years.
“When you create these special mixes, you’re going to attract birds like pine siskins, goldfinches, tufted titmice and doves, and depending on where you live, you might even get a grosbeak,” he said. “Some of the commercial blends that you see have a lot of things in them that the birds don’t like. They actually scratch them out. These are things that are in the blend to keep the cost down, but they are of little or no nutritional value to the birds.”
Peanut butter suet stuffing
Birds love peanut butter, and this suet stuffing is easy to make and fun to hang on a tree outside your window. Horticulturist Mark Viette suggests mixing the following ingredients together:
- 1 cup chunky peanut butter
- 3 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
- 1 cup solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)
- good quality birdseed blend that includes black oil sunflower seeds
- dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries, and unsalted peanuts (optional)
Place the stuffing in a feeder designed for suet blocks (you can use an empty suet container as a mold), or shape into balls and hang in mesh bags.
You also can use this stuffing to make pine cone ornaments. Find some good-size pine cones that are somewhat open with lots of room for the peanut butter suet stuffing. Tie a string or yarn around the base of the pine cone to hang it.
Using your hands, squeeze and pack the stuffing into the spaces between the pine cone scales. If the stuffed cone is sticky enough, roll it in a paper plate of birdseed to make it even more enticing.
Many of the ingredients that Viette uses in his special mix are affordable and available at local natural food stores. He recommended purchasing one of the items—black-oil sunflower seed—in bulk.
“I like to start with about 80% black oil seed,” Viette said. “I sometimes use celery seed … dill seed is another inexpensive ingredient that birds love. I collect fennel seed from my garden as well, and that’s free. Hulled millet is another good one, as is pumpkin seed. Birds love pumpkin seed.
“Nuts like pecans are also good for the blend. They should be somewhat fresh, and crush them before adding so one bird doesn’t end up with the entire nut. And uncooked, unsalted peanuts in the shell are great.”
Watch this video: Horticulturalist Mark Viette shows us how he mixes birdseed to attract a variety of birds to his garden in this clip from Real Virginia.
Mix a few tablespoons of the smaller seeds and a half-cup or so of the other ingredients into a bucket of black oil sunflower seeds.
“It’s important not to overfeed the birds, so be sure they’ve cleaned everything out before refilling your feeders,” Viette said. “You don’t want to starve them, but you don’t want them to cost you needless money.”
Viette has almost a dozen feeders within 50 feet of each other. “Don’t be afraid to put all your feeders in a small area,” he said. “Make sure you have different types of feeders as well. Multiple feeders increase the number of birds almost exponentially.”
Platform feeders are best for larger birds; suet feeders work for woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees; and traditional feeders are good for other breeds. Don’t forget thistle feeders as well, Viette said. “You wouldn’t think it would make a difference, but having different feeders means the birds are not competing with each other.”
This recipe calls for butter, brown sugar, cinnamon—and apples! Is there a better combination? This dessert soon may be your new family favorite.
Virginia apples make decadently delicious treats
Autumn ushers in changing leaves, crisp temperatures and the fragrant smell of apples baking in the oven.
A staple commodity since they arrived during Colonial times, apples are grown on over 100 commercial orchards, totaling about 16,000 acres in the commonwealth. Virginia is the sixth-largest apple producer in the U.S, and the apple industry is responsible for contributing an estimated $235 million annually to the state’s economy. About 70% of Virginia apples are processed into products like apple cider, applesauce, apple butter and slices.
Of the roughly 2,500 varieties grown in the U.S., Virginia orchardists cultivate around 25, with some of the most common being Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Stayman, Gala, Granny Smith and Fuji.
When it comes to cooking with apples, many believe one variety reigns supreme—the Granny Smith. Its tart flavor helps balance sweet recipes, and the apple’s firm structure holds up against high heat. Other apples ideal for cooking and baking include Fuji, Winesap and Honeycrisp.